Policy Analysis

Prioritizing “No Significant Harm” over “Reasonable and Equitable” in Governance of Aquifers

By David B. Brooks on March 20, 2015

This commentary reflects on the governance of transboundary aquifers and suggests that the principle of “no significant harm” should ultimately be prioritized over that of “reasonable and equitable use.”

Two principles of both transboundary aquifer management and governance have come to hold pre-eminent positions in negotiations:

  • In all operations to reduce as far as possible any significant harm to other portions of the aquifer and to other natural resources with which it is related.

  • Ensure that use of the aquifer water is reasonable and equitable by comparison with other possible uses and other possible users.

The author remarks that, while the development of these principles is an achievement, balance between the two can be difficult to achieve. It is often not clear which principle should get priority, when and with what constraints. Brooks discusses various perspectives in the literature, and provides case studies of the al-Disi Aquifer under Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and the Ogallala Aquifer, which lies under several states in the United States, to examine key questions and issues when considering these principles.

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